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Following the Data: From Traditional to Virtual Ethnography in a Study of Body Modification

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By: Published: 2018 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases Part 2
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Abstract

Body modification has a long and varied history across the globe. In recent decades, practices like tattoos and piercing have become more widespread in Western societies. Some people have even suggested that body modification has become an accepted form of self-expression. I began my ethnographic research on body modification with an interest in finding out how people without tattoos go through the process of getting their first tattoo. Even when clients did not view their own tattoos as a form of deviance, their decisions about where to be tattooed showed that they did not believe tattoos were fully accepted in society. Throughout my time working in a tattoo shop, I also became interested in people who had more heavily modified bodies. I ultimately learned about a website for body modification enthusiasts, which drove me to follow up my traditional ethnographic study with a virtual ethnography. This case study discusses my experiences following data from an offline to an online field site. While I discuss the events that led me to go online, I also argue that this may not be an appropriate decision for every ethnographer. I suggest that every researcher needs to consider what data might be most relevant for answering their specific research questions, which, for many, may not include digital data.

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Virtual ethnography

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